Even at the best of times, a divorce is likely to involve conflict between spouses. While a couple may be able to negotiate with each other and come to agreements in some areas, they may reach an impasse when addressing certain issues. In many cases, disagreements involving a couple’s children can be especially difficult to resolve. To address these matters, outside experts may become involved in a case, and a judge may appoint a guardian ad litem or child custody evaluator. When dealing with these types of experts, parents will need to make sure to understand their rights and the ways they can protect their children’s best interests.
The attorneys of Weiss-Kunz & Oliver, LLC have represented clients in a wide variety of complex divorce and family law cases involving child-related issues. With our experience in these matters, which includes serving as guardians ad litem and legal representatives for children, we can help divorcing parents understand the best ways to proceed in these matters. We work to help our clients resolve disputes related to their children and other aspects of divorce as effectively as possible, ensuring that they will be able to move forward with their lives and maintain positive family relationships after completing the divorce process.
When Are Outside Experts Appointed to Address Child Custody?
When divorcing parents disagree about the allocation of parental responsibilities or how parenting time should be divided, it may be difficult for a family court judge to gain a full understanding of the issues involved in the case. While the arguments made by each parent will address the parents’ desires and their beliefs about what is best for their children, this may not provide a complete picture of the family’s situation. Since a judge will be looking to find solutions that will protect the children’s best interests, they may need assistance from other parties to gain information about the case and determine how child-related issues should be resolved.
To ensure that they have all the necessary information to make a decision, a judge may choose to appoint different types of experts. These may include a guardian ad litem who will serve as a legal representative for the children or child custody evaluators who can offer recommendations about how matters related to parenting time and parental responsibilities should be handled. A parent may also request that a guardian ad litem or child custody evaluator be appointed to address certain issues during their divorce.
What Is a Guardian Ad Litem?
A guardian ad litem, or GAL, is a lawyer who will be responsible for representing the children in a child custody case. Most of the time, parents will be required to divide the costs of a GAL’s services, but the GAL will not provide representation for either parent. The GAL will advocate for the children’s best interests and make recommendations for how matters related to child custody should be addressed.
After being appointed, a guardian ad litem will perform an investigation into the case to gather relevant information about the relationships between the parents and children, identify any areas of concern, and gain an understanding of the matters that need to be resolved. The GAL will speak to each parent to discuss their desires and concerns. They will also interview the children, and depending on children’s ages, this may be done in the presence of a parent or separately. The GAL may visit the parents’ homes and observe them as they interact with the children. They may also get permission to contact other parties who can provide insight into the case, such as doctors, school officials, family therapists, and extended family members, and they may obtain children’s school records, medical records, or other relevant documentation.
The GAL will submit a written report following their investigation, and this report will detail their findings and provide recommendations for how decisions about child-related matters should be handled. If a divorce proceeds to litigation, the GAL may be called as a witness and cross-examined by either parent’s attorney about their findings and explain their recommendations. The insights that a GAL may provide into a case will likely play a significant role in the decisions a judge makes about child custody.
What Is a Child Custody Evaluator?
In some cases, a judge may choose to appoint other types of professionals to evaluate a case and offer recommendations about matters related to child custody. Either parent may also request an evaluation by a child custody evaluator of their choosing. While parents will usually be required to divide the costs of a court-appointed evaluator’s services, a parent who requests an evaluation from a private evaluator will usually be solely responsible for paying this evaluator’s fees.
A child custody evaluator will usually be a professional who has received training in matters related to family relationships and other issues that affect the custody of children. An evaluator may be a psychologist, family therapist, or social worker who has experience working with parents and children. The evaluator will conduct interviews with the parents and children to gain an understanding of their desires and identify any issues that may play a role in the case. They may also conduct joint sessions with both parents or with parents and children, and they may ask the parties to complete questionnaires or other tests to identify any mental health issues or other concerns that may affect parents or children. While a child custody evaluator’s investigation will often be limited to interviews and discussions with parents and children, they may sometimes conduct home studies and observe parents’ interactions with their children, and they may also speak to other parties, such as extended family members.
The evaluator will provide written recommendations to the court stating how they believe child custody issues should be resolved. This report will be submitted as evidence. If the case goes to trial, a court-appointed evaluator may testify as a witness. Either party may also call a private child custody evaluator as an expert witness. Evaluators may be cross-examined by both parties and discuss their findings and recommendations.
Tips for Working With a Guardian Ad Litem or Child Custody Evaluator
When a GAL or child custody evaluator is appointed, parents may be unsure about how to proceed. Since this person will be delving into the private details of their lives, they may be concerned about the issues that will be discussed, and they may not know what types of information they will need to provide or how to respond to certain questions or requests. Since these types of investigations and evaluations may play an important role in the final decisions about child custody, parents will need to understand the best ways to protect their rights and demonstrate that they can provide for their children’s best interests.
If a guardian ad litem or child custody evaluator has been appointed in your case, you will want to do the following:
Be honest – You should be sure to provide complete, accurate answers to any questions you are asked and turn over any requested documents as quickly as possible. If you attempt to conceal information or refuse to provide certain details, it is likely that the GAL or evaluator will find this information through other means, and your lack of honesty and cooperation may be addressed in their findings. Providing complete, honest explanations for any questions that are asked will ensure that you can address any concerns that a person may have about your children’s health, safety, and well-being. By being honest, you can also demonstrate that you want to do everything you can to provide for your children’s best interests.
Show that you can provide for your children’s needs – Since a child custody evaluator or guardian ad litem will be looking to find solutions that will protect children’s best interests, you will want to demonstrate that you will be able to provide the necessary care for them once your divorce is complete. During a home visit, you will want to show that you have space where your children can live and that you will be able to provide them with the proper food and clothing. You may also provide evidence showing your previous level of involvement in your children’s lives, including providing regular, daily care and being involved in their schools and activities. Demonstrating that you have been closely involved in your children’s lives in the past and are capable of taking care of them in the future will help the GAL or child custody evaluator make decisions based on what would be best for your children going forward.
Put your children first – A guardian ad litem or child custody evaluator will be focused on what is in your children’s best interests rather than the conflict between you and the other parent or the reasons for your divorce. While you may be unhappy with the actions of your spouse or how matters are being handled during your case, it is usually best to avoid discussing these issues with a GAL or evaluator unless they are directly related to your children. Instead of focusing on getting what you want or winning arguments with your spouse, you will want to make sure you are putting your children’s needs first. Showing that you want what is best for your children and focusing on addressing their ongoing needs will demonstrate to a child custody evaluator or guardian ad litem that you will not let your divorce get in the way of your children’s best interests.
Show that you can cooperate with the other parent – One major factor that can play a role in decisions about child custody is parents’ ability to work together to provide for their children’s best interests. Even though you may be involved in conflict with your spouse during your divorce, you will want to show that you are able to cooperate with them to provide for your children’s needs. Being willing to discuss issues with the other parent and being flexible when necessary based on changes to work or school schedules will show that you are putting your children’s best interests ahead of any disagreements about divorce-related issues.
Contact Our Elmhurst Child Custody Lawyers
While investigations by outside experts will not be a factor in every divorce case, there are some situations where they are necessary. If a guardian ad litem or child custody evaluator has been appointed during your divorce, or if you are wondering whether the appointment of a professional may be necessary in your case, Weiss-Kunz & Oliver, LLC can help you understand your options. We will advise you on the best ways to respond to questions or requests for information during an investigation, and we will advocate for your children’s best interests in court proceedings addressing child custody. For legal help with these issues, contact our DuPage County divorce attorneys today by calling 312-605-4041.